New index adds to mounting evidence of COVID-19’s human toll . . .
Millions in Asia are at risk of falling prey to modern slavery – the extreme exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain – as the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues. That is a key finding from the Modern Slavery Index, published this week by Verisk Maplecroft. This organization helps businesses determine their exposure to human rights violations such as forced labour and trafficking in persons, including through their supply chains and service providers. The Index now ranks Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar in the ‘extreme risk’ category, and Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam in the ‘high risk’ category. Verisk Maplecroft notes that the concentration of retail goods producers in Asia – plus the general lack of robust legal frameworks for protecting workers’ rights – makes the region particularly susceptible.
Garment workers especially vulnerable . . .
The steep decline in global consumer demand is one of the main factors behind the growing vulnerability of modern slavery. Workers in Asia’s garment and footwear industry, which until recently employed about 60 million people, are especially vulnerable. Many of them are women for whom factory work represented one of the few paths out of poverty. Since foreign companies began cancelling orders in March, millions have lost their jobs and are being forced into the informal economy, where there are few, if any, labour protections. Those who have managed to hang on to their factory jobs are at a greater risk of exploitation in part because COVID-19 travel restrictions have made it more challenging for watchdog organizations to conduct on-site inspections.
A concern for Canadians . . .
The increased vulnerability for women in the developing world puts this issue squarely in Canada’s line of sight, as women’s labour rights are an important component of its Feminist International Assistance Policy. Also, Canadian brands that source their products from Asia should be on alert. Several such brands came under scrutiny for unethical practices following the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. These companies must ensure that they do not become complicit in rolling back the transparency of supply chains and the gains in labour rights made since the Rana Plaza tragedy.
- South China Morning Post: Modern slavery is widespread in Asia
- Verisk Maplecroft: Modern slavery risks surge in Asia’s manufacturing hubs, pandemic worsens outlook
- Wall Street Journal: Pandemic crushes garment industry, the developing world’s path out of poverty